Learn more Download now Shop now Browse your favorite restaurants Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Learn More Shop now Learn more Shop Fire Shop Kindle Learn More Shop now Shop now Learn more

TOP 100 REVIEWERon 7 October 2013
I have read and reviewed all of Malcolm Gladwell's previous books and consider him to be among the most talented and energetic of journalists, with most of his work featured in The New Yorker. He also has superb storyteller skills. His "discoveries" tend to be well-known to those knowledgeable about the given subject. In The Tipping Point, for example, he discusses a phenomenon previous characterized by Michael Kami as a "trigger point" and later by Andrew Grove as an "inflection point." Or consider "the secret of success" that he discusses in The Outliers. For decades, Anders Ericsson and his associates at Florida State University have been conducting research on peak performance. He duly acknowledges sources such as Ericsson and should be praised for attracting greater attention to the subjects he discusses. That is Gladwell's great value.

However, in his latest book, David and Goliath, he demonstrates faulty reasoning, such as what Christopher Chabris characterizes as "the fallacy of the unexamined premise." He also has problems with causal relationships and this is not the first time that Gladwell confuses "because" with "despite." For example, consider his assertion that attorney David Boies's great success is largely explained by the fact that he is dyslexic. Overcoming learning disabilities may have been - for Boies as well as countless others -- what Warren Bennis and David Thomas characterize as a "crucible" that strengthens and enlightens those who emerge from it.

In this context, I am reminded of the fact that one of the world's most renowned authorities on ADHD, Edward ("Ned") Hallowell, is an author of countless books and articles on the subject, a child and adult psychiatrist, and a New York Times bestselling author. Also, he is a graduate of Harvard College and Tulane Medical School as well as the founder of The Hallowell Centers in Sudbury, Massachusetts, and New York City. Are these great achievements because or despite the fact that Hallowell is ADHD?

In his latest book, Gladwell relies too heavily on insufficient evidence or, worst yet, only on evidence that supports his premise. Yes, peak performers such as Boies, Richard Branson, Brian Glazer, David Neeleman, and Charles Schwab overcame severe learning disabilities and yes, 12 of 44 U.S. Presidents (including the first and the current) lost their father at an early age. There is no shortage of examples of women as well as men who have a "story of success" despite all manner of physical, social, and/or economic limitations.

Gladwell is at his best when sharing what he has learned after exploring subjects of special interest to him. As indicated, I admire his skills as a journalist and storyteller. What I view as his defective reasoning skills detract from the presentation of some (not all) if the material in David and Goliath, hence the Four Star rating.
88 Comments| 38 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 25 May 2014
Gladwell has a formula: he picks a grand thesis - in this case that what are ordinarily perceived of as disadvantages might not be wholly negative - and then carefully arranges around it anecdotes of such simple humanity that one is forced, between dabbing the tears away and spontaneous rounds of applause, to swallow the damn thing whole.

There's a circle of scientific hell set aside for those who build their theses from anecdotes and artfully chosen evidence. However, people love anecdotes and when skilfully done it can bamboozle the critical faculties of the audience like a well rehearsed magic trick. The problem is, in David and Goliath, the patter seems a bit more forced, Gladwell fluffs the shuffle and we can, quite clearly, see a dove's head poking out of his sleeve and cooing insistently.

The anecdotes drag out a bit too long, to the extent that you start to wonder not only what the point is, but whether there's a point at all. Sometimes the point is separated so distantly from the anecdote that a quick flick back through the book is necessary. When that happens, the author has lost control and the effect falls to pieces. Gladwell relies so heavily on effect rather than a coherent argument that if we don't buy into it completely, we don't buy into it at all.

That's not to say that there's nothing in the book worth reading. There are some excellent paradoxical nuggets of insight and he still has a knack for taking something familiar - like the story of David and Goliath, which opens the book - and giving you a whole new way of looking at it. He also has a collection of stories about people that are fascinating in their own right.

So, yes, there are high points scattered through the book, but the whole seems half finished as if he didn't have the time to properly gather his thoughts together before committing them to the printer.
66 Comments| 73 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 9 November 2015
Very readable. I very much enjoyed the actual David and Goliath story and I learnt something about Basketball. That is the positives out of the way.
What ruined it for me was the description of the troubles in Northern Ireland and what it revealed about the rigour of his research and what can only be deliberate bias in his telling of the story. Unfortunately, I then realised I was reading a work of fiction, it followed that what Malcolm Gladwell (MG) was telling me was profound, was in fact obvious and lacked detail, substance and value.
MG has learnt, like Hollywood, never to let the facts get in the way of a good story and he tells the story of Northern Ireland from one perspective.
Despite quoting from IRA sources, he never introduces them as a protagonist in the troubles, nor does he mention the country to its immediate south that at the time was constitutionally opposed to Northern Ireland being part of the UK.
He defines loyalists as "militant Protestants" and despite the lack of a description of the IRA, we are told that the “Protestant Ulster Volunteer Force” was “an extreme and illegal paramilitary unit". Nowhere can I find any mention of Republicans, Nationalists or extreme and illegal catholic paramilitaries.
We are told that graffiti at the time used word which was a derogatory term for "Irish Catholics" and yet MG quotes include "Brits", which although like the similar words, is used by British people to describe themselves, is used in this context as a term of abuse for someone from the UK EXCLUDING Northern Ireland.
Ironically, despite his description of the trickster tactics of the civil rights movement he seems to take at face value all the stories of insensitivity and brutality told about the British Army. He doesn't seem to consider that these stories may have told and retold with the intention fuelling the anger against British rule and might have been embellished for that purpose. He fails to see that as in the civil rights movement there was deliberate confusion between protesters and bystanders.
Obviously the British Army made mistakes in Northern Ireland, but anyone reading his account would think that they or a couple of economists caused the troubles and raised the issue of legitimacy. But when were economists put in charge of the Army?
I am not an expert on Northern Ireland, but I believe that the question of legitimacy was raised by Republicans long before the British Army was drafted in and the difficulties they faced policing catholic West Belfast was because of pre-existing opposition to British rule.
Anyway, the big message of the book was the “inverted – u shape curve”. Why doesn’t he call it an “n shaped curve”, we could figure for ourselves that it is lower case n. Well it was a revelation when maths discovered that some functions could be represented graphically and v.v., it was a further revelation when it was discovered that some real world properties could be represented graphically, because it meant that it could be calculated by a mathematical function. But it is not a revelation to say that some things are not precisely defined graphically, because we already know that and the shape of a non-linear graph alone does not lead us to any useful mathematical model and hence prediction. In other words, the “inverted-u shape curve” is qualitative, but not quantitative. What it effectively says, is there is a range of values that are better than others and that sometimes these values are not at the extreme. In other words a chair can be too small, too big or just the right size. A bed can be too soft, too hard or just the right firmness and porridge can be too hot, too cold or just the right temperature.
Profound – No
Useful – No
Entertaining – At times.
He leaves us with a slightly confusing story and the supposedly upbeat message that “there is a limit to what evil and misfortune can accomplish”, but I am left thinking that the converse must also true.
I think MG should examine his n-shaped curve and maybe consider that he may be on the right hand side of it and that another non-fiction book might be counter-productive. He’s been writing fiction for years, it is time to market it as such.
0Comment| 4 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
VINE VOICEon 19 October 2013
"Then David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone; and he slung it and struck the Philistine in his forehead, so that the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the earth. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him." -- 1 Samuel 17:49-50 (NKJV)

I enjoyed every single story in the book. Mr. Gladwell is a fine storyteller. My disappointment was that the book didn't provide more practical advice.

There are three parts: the advantages of disadvantages (and the disadvantages of advantages), the theory of desirable difficulty, and the limits of power.

In the first part, the title could just as easily be: misunderstandings about advantages and disadvantages. They key lesson actually comes from the first story about how an experienced basketball coach built a winning team around extreme defense ... because the team didn't have much else going for it: make the most out of whatever advantage you can gain. The most practical application came in the material about how it's better to go to a lesser college and be a star there than to not be a star at a more highly regarded college.

In the second part, the title could just as easily be: slow down and notice what's going on. The examples show how concentration ... despite difficulties in doing so ... yields great insights and results.

In the third part, the title could just as easily be: don't push people too far, they'll get stronger in resistance.

So if you thought this book was going to give you some huge new insight from academia, I doubt if that will be the case. If you hoped to find some bit of practical advice for what to do differently, there's little past some good principles. The college lesson, however, is worth the price of the book for any high school seniors who will soon be making such decisions.

Enjoy some fun reading!
11 Comment|Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 2 January 2015
Malcolm Gladwell, journalist, best selling writer and TED speaker, takes the every day, the things in life we take for granted, the things we never question. He turns them up side down and inside out, looks at reasons why things happen, the bizarre phenomena of what goes on around us. He makes us think about stuff, all sorts of stuff. Much of his writings have not had good press or good reviews with researchers, academics: he misrepresents facts and figures, oversimplifying the research. But if you go into reading his books knowing that there are plenty of experts sceptical about what he writes, then you will probably enjoy them even more. In the times we live in where we are constantly being fed a diet of reality TV rubbish, political spin doctors, multinational spin doctors, the excitement of celebrity lives, we need to question the world around us. It is so refreshing to be able to read something that challenges the brain, and may even lead us to question further the society we live in. I have loved the author's other books - Outliers, The Tipping Point, What the Dog Saw, and Blink. Easy to read and digest, interesting topics, loads of research, wonderfully engaging writing style - what is there not to like?

This is Mr Gladwell's latest offering, and is as entertaining and interesting as his other books. Opening with the story we have all grown up with, David and Goliath, he turns the story and the reason for its outcome inside out with some great revelations as to why a tiny undernourished shepherd boy was able to knock down and kill a giant of a man, a professional soldier, with a stone fired from a sling shot. Another chapter looks at how it may well be better for your child to go to a school or university which is not in the top ten highest achievers/prestigious etc. Your child could well do much better being a big fish in a small pond rather than a small fish in a big pond. Or that sometimes the rule book does need to be thrown out with the bath water, that peaceful resistance can work. He writes about some successful business people who have not let learning disabilities they were born with hold them back. Instead these people had to find other ways, less conventional and even slightly alarming ways, to over ride their disabilities and achieve. Many of the people in his book are ordinary, average, people next door type of people. But they have all become extraordinary in their lives for being able to think outside the square and trusting their own gut intuition.

It is inspiring to know that, if we just think a little bit around the problem, rather than looking at head on, then the odds may well not be stacked against us as much as we initially thought.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 24 November 2014
This is the third book by Malcolm Gladwell that I have read, so I had an inkling of what was to come. And in that I was not disappointed! Gladwell starts from a well-known story of an underdog triumphing (no, hold on, THE well-known story of an underdog .....) and moves on from there. True to past books, it is a tour of trends from many different disciplines, and looks at what makes an underdog, and what are advantages and disadvantages. There is more to this than you might think.

From the David vs Goliath point of view, Gladwell asks “who is the underdog?” From the conventional point of view, it is David: young, inexperienced and in almost every way a perfect loser. However, the conventional point of view is, like it or not, from the view-point of Goliath. It is a Goliath view of the world. David did not fight by the conventional rules – the very armour that he tried to wear was a huge encumbrance to him. So he discarded it, and fought with what he knew and was accomplished with. A sling and 5 stones.

The big does not always prevail over the small. It is surprising that in wars between countries with a very significant difference in population size (of the order of 10:1), the ‘big’ wins in only just over 2/3 of the instances. It is this that goes to the heart of the nine individual stories in this volume. Yes, there are many more than nine stories in this book, but each chapter has a headline story. These range from basketball coaches to students choosing collages, and Brer Rabbit behaviour from the civil rights movement in the American South.

Read this book. It may help you understand some of the things that go on in and around your own life, introduce you to the inverted U curve, and a whole lot besides. More importantly, it could assist you to identify opportunities to overcome when in a “David and Goliath” situation, by thinking in a different way. If you read about seeming disadvantages being used in an advantageous way, and harnessing the power this brings, it could help you not to be a goliath yourself, and not to think as Goliath yourself.

Dyslexia seems to have some advantages, and many who win out in life have lost one or both parents before the age of 16. Would I wish either of these circumstances on people I know (especially close family). Here the answer is a resounding ‘no’! But if there are adverse circumstances, that does not necessarily mean that the situation is hopeless. THAT is the optimism of this volume.

Peter Morgan (morganp@supanet.com)
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 4 October 2013
Malcolm Gladwell has justifiably become one of the more popular non-fiction writers - his previous books such as The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference or Outliers: The Story of Success have done an excellent job of synthesizing scientific research that was perhaps not always intuitively appealing into a very readable and easy to digest format.

Partially the current book - 'David and Goliath' - follows in the same vein. He is still one of the easiest writers to read and the concept, namely that the cards are often stacked against the more powerful 'Goliath', is a common, if not often acknowledged one.

The book starts well enough with the original David and Goliath story and then progresses through plenty of individual cases on how the weaker side successfully took on the conventionally more powerful one. The examples range from basketball, dyslexia, to the treatment of leukemia, the civil right movement, Northern Ireland and the 'three strike policy'.

If you are looking for a well argued scientific treatise, the book will possibly disappoint. While research is often used to strengthen the points the author tries to make, it is less pervasive than in his other books; here much more is based on individual case studies.

Nevertheless, if you use the book primarily as a 'food for thought' material, there are certainly plenty of interesting cases to work from here and the author (sometimes narrowly) avoids the trap of claiming that the position of the weaker, disadvantaged party is by definition the preferable one. He ably demonstrates that there are certain strengths that can be drawn from a position conventionally defined as the weaker one, from never giving up, not playing according to (informal) rules, avoiding your opponents' strength, to building on the mechanisms that helped you overcome your weakness...

Quite some of the points are not new, and some recent Po Bronson non-fiction books such as Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing or Nurtureshock: Why Everything We Thought About Children is Wrong perhaps demonstrate them with more scientific support, even if they do not read quite as fluidly as this here (they are very close, though).

So overall not the most memorable Gladwell but still an interesting book that can help the more reflective manager, strategist or general thinker play out intriguing scenarios and understand some basics of 'David and Goliath' mechanics.
0Comment| 17 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 21 January 2016
I've read many of Gladwell's other books, I enjoyed them and I learnt from them. I definitely can't say the same for this one. Parts of it at the beginning are fascinating (if they're true!), particularly his claims that a small class size is not essential for a good primary and secondary education and that the top-rank universities may not necessarily be the optimum places for your son or daughter to study. If his claims are correct, that's a revelation for me. So when Gladwell, later in the book, compares the behavior of naughty children in class with the behavior of adults in a civil war, that ludicrous comparison severely damages his credibility as a writer. When readers see that kind of nonsense, they start to ask themselves if the author actually the faintest idea about children or education or civil wars. This is only one particularly noticeable example of the many doubtful comparisons and hypotheses that the author indulges in. As @Maria Sobkiewicz says in her review, "the parallels the author resorts to are far-fetched (bored and unruly school children and the war in Northern Ireland to make a point about authority? Really?)"

In fact, Gladwell ventures into an area that wiser writers than him have steered well clear of, by writing anything at all about the Troubles (the civil war in Northern Ireland, 1970-1998), and in doing so, piles on more damage to his credibility as a writer. In the Troubles, there were a multitude of rights and wrongs on both sides in the conflict, but it is abundantly clear that Gladwell decided to only look at one side, and worse than that, his bias towards that side was blatantly obvious. A more detailed description of the mistakes in judgement that the author made when writing that part of the book can be found in the review here by @Occam's shaver.

At the end, the book picks up (a bit) with the description of the brave actions of the people on a remote plateau in central France who defied the Nazis. But many people will have given up on the book, and thrown it aside, well before they reach that section.

I have only given details of a few of the failings of the book. Eloquent descriptions of other negative aspects of the book can be found in many of the other critical reviews.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 9 October 2013
This is the first book review I've ever forwarded to Amazon; as a busy CEO of a performance-improvement business I have little time to do spare on such things normally. I am therefore not a 'professional reviewer' with aspirations to become as renowned as the author, neither do I wish to use the platform of a review to demonstrate how clever I am or how many associated works I have read, in some way diminishing the author's innovative work. I have done so simply because, having devoured and reflected on this book over a few days (as with all Malcolm's others, which I've bought in numbers for my people) I found it absolutely inspirational in adjusting my thinking in several key areas. Having read the first few reviews, I felt moved to give it the unqualified praise and admiration I feel it deserves. It is to me is the best book I've read for years (and I am looking at 200+ now in my office). Its key messages have application to so many of us in so many ways. For example, as someone integrally involved with education and training for 30 years, the insights about class size accords with our own experiential discoveries and should be informative to educators generally. The big pond little fish insight will halp many undergrads to focus on the most appropriate University for them personally. The insights about the legitimacy of authority, whether relating to policing (Brownsville), the military (Northern Ireland) or the justice system (California)should be informative to everyone involved in these activities, and especially those responsible for policy-setting -the essence of each being that humans are more influenced in decision-making by innate emotions than rational thought (as neuroscience has been discovering in recent years). A truth which is all too often completely ignored. The theory of desirable difficulty as applied to dyslexia will help me empathise with employees who have that disadvantage, perhaps by making their assignments harder to read, which I now see will improve their attention and outputs! All in all, this is a truly compelling read for anyone willing to look at apparently counter-intuitive ideas and open to adjusting their thinking as a result - surely the unique genius in all Malcolm Gladwell's books. Malcolm - come to the UK and speak to our policy-makers!!
0Comment| 7 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 10 November 2013
Who are the underdogs? What makes them underdogs? Are they weak or is it just another perception of people who cannot understand some things and therefore, love to label them to their convenience? Perhaps the concept of the underdog has been grossly misunderstood. Perhaps it needs to be relooked given how some of them have fought battles and won against giants, with may be limited resources. Is it always the case though? Do underdogs win all the time? Did David win against Goliath by mere chance or did he have some clear advantages, which the giant did not? With this premise in mind, Malcolm Gladwell's new book, "David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants" is all about this principle, presented with facts and approaches it with a range of examples of the number of Davids and their struggle to get ahead.

I had read one book written by Gladwell before reading his latest work. I was hesitant - also because I had heard that the book was not that great. However, I took my chance and read it, finished it in a span of a day and a half and thoroughly enjoyed it. The book hooks you on from Page 1 and then there is no letting go. I think to a large extent the book connects with you, because we all feel that we have been or are underdogs at one point or the other. So you not only end up reading the book for what it is, but also silently cheering for the misfit to make it big.

The book is divided into three sections - the first one is about how advantages are sometimes disadvantages and vice-versa. Things are never what they seem and one always has to look for different alternatives to rise above. From a novice basketball coach to the number of children in one classroom in the schools of America and across the world to the most interesting theory of "Big Fish in a Small Pond and Small Fish in a Big Pond", this section is my most favourite in the entire book. The second section is about weaknesses and how desirable they can be given how many people succeeded with them. Handicaps need not always be handicaps. The third and final section of the book is about the limits of power and how it does not always be everything, given any context or situation.

"David and Goliath" is not only an insightful read, but also at some level it does become a personal read, right from the first to the last section. You tend to relate to situations and anecdotes and I found myself nodding in affirmation to most of them. The book is a light read. The statistics do not flummox the reader, which is very good, given the nature of the book. "David & Goliath" is the kind of book that will make you contemplate situations around you and probably reassess them - mostly with respect to the so-called "misfits and underdogs".
0Comment| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse

Sponsored Links

  (What is this?)